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Lot 2056
AT&T/Bell Labs, 1964.
12 March 2019, 14:00 EDT
New York

Sold for US$10,075 inc. premium

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AT&T/Bell Labs, 1964.
Mod I Picturephone video telephone, serial number 107, with original video cable. Long grey plastic console body, small vertical format screen at one end, marked Western Electric, 330 mm deep x 298 mm wide, screen size 140 x 114 mm, on a circular metal base 229 mm in diameter. With of proprietary design. Light soiling.

A rare surviving example of AT&T's experimental picturephone, first seen by the public in New York's 1964 World's Fair. This new product was the result of almost 8 years of research at their Bell Laboratories. At the World's Fair they set up 7 booths with the Model I, each connected to the other booths, so that the public could try out this new technology. AT&T had been working on the picture telephony business since their first attempt in late 1920s using television technology, and as a national telephone monopoly, their goal of universal telephone service in the US had been achieved by the 1950s. Many thought the next step was to provide the picturephone. In June 1964 booths were set up in Chicago, New York and Washington DC, so that customers could try out the phones long distance. A number of important public figures were given the opportunity to see a demonstration of the picturephone, including Lady Bird Johnson (the First Lady), descendants of Alexander Graham Bell and Samuel Morse, and a number of politicians and business leaders. By the end of the 1964 just 71 calls had been made, probably because the cost of the call was $16-27 for a 3 minute call. The Mod I was never put into commercial production, and an estimated 150 consoles were built for trial use. Officers of AT&T also tried them out in their offices, but the idea never caught on, and most of the units were destroyed.

Saleroom notices

This Picturephone MOD I, is numbered 107, marked in crayon inside the fiberglass case. Further research indicates 150 trial units were hand built, and before the remaining MOD I's were destroyed around 1970 ( as AT&T were migrating to the MOD IIs), Bell Laboratory employees who had worked on this prototype, were able to take an example home. Records of examples in public and private Museums across the States show just 10 units in existence.

Additional information